Release Format Tracks Date Country Label Catalog# Barcode
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition / Bach-Busoni: Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C / Glinka-Balakirev: The Lark CD 20 BVCC-31061 4988017607879
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition / Bach-Busoni: Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C / Glinka-Balakirev: The Lark CD 20 RCA Red Seal 09026-63884-2 090266388424


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It's hard to believe the Russian wunderkind is now in his early 30's, especially as there's still a boyish innocence about the face that gazes coolly past you from the cover of his new disc. But Kissin's been technically fully-formed since he first burst onto the international concert scene as a prodigy, even though his interpretations have sometimes left brows furrowed. It's always been easy to admire how Kissin does something, without necessarily understanding why he does it...but from an interpretative point of view, his Pictures are utterly compelling.

In this gallery the images leap from the frames, colours glowing, shadows threatening; brooding, leering, bristling with life. Gnomus, the sinister little nutcracker in the first picture, sets the tone after the opening promenade: Kissin's steely fingers delineate the gnome's grotesque outline with a force that's missing from so many other recordings. There's a clarity and precision that makes other pictures positively glitter, dazzling with detail - try Tuileries or Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks, and the market place in Limoges is full of clattering and chattering, the shoppers and traders flinging patter and gossip at each other at a furious pace.

The recording emphasises Kissin's sharp attack and steely precision; I certainly wouldn't have minded a bit more warmth to the sound, a touch of velvet over the gauntlets. Some people I know are going to recoil from this approach, feeling that when they walk around pictures at an exhibition, they don't want the images to leap off the walls and mug them. But then again, some of these same people will probably mention Sviatoslav Richter's famous recording, a benchmark for the Mussorgsky for years - and that certainly reaches out and grabs you by the scruff of the neck.

The Bach-Busoni makes a surprisingly good introduction to the Mussorgsky, with Glinka's Lark singing sadly in between, virtuoso flourishes peppering its song. No warmth, though - that just doesn't seem to be what Kissin does, and it's a problem for me in both of these pieces. But in the end it's all about the Mussorgsky, and that is a truly impressive achievement. Imagine Pollini's uncompromising precision meeting Richter's white-hot inspiration, and you'll get the picture. Sorry, Pictures.

Andrew McGregor - presenter of CD Review on Radio 3